Shifrinson in Foreign Affairs on The Fall of the Berlin Wall

November 22, 2019

Joshua Shifrinson, Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, published a recent article on United States fears of war at the end of the Cold War and the effects on U.S. policy toward German reunification.

Shifrinson’s article, entitled “The Fall of the Berlin Wall Almost Ended in War,” was published in Foreign Affairs on November 22, 2019.

From the text of the article:

Thirty years ago this month, the opening of the Berlin Wall ushered in the last great diplomatic struggle of the Cold War. As cheering crowds danced atop what was left of the Iron Curtain, the fate of Germany hung in the balance. In retrospect, it is easy to see that triumphal moment as part of an inevitable march toward German reunification. At the time, however, the future felt anything but certain.

Germany was the most important strategic prize in Europe. Debates over its reunification and geopolitical alignment had nearly sparked a war on several occasions in the 1950s and 1960s. And as late as October 1989,U.S. officials warned that if Soviet influence in East Germany were threatened, the Soviet Union would “use force to prevent the collapse of a Communist East German State.” When the wall opened just one month later, no one knew how the Kremlin would interpret the end of travel restrictions and the broader challenge this posed to Soviet influence; after all, the higher-ups in Berlin had announced the decision to open the border without Moscow’s explicit approval. A crackdown—perhaps even a war—was a real possibility.

Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson’s teaching and research interests focus on the intersection of international security and diplomatic history, particularly the rise and fall of great powers and the origins of grand strategy.  He has special expertise in great power politics since 1945 and U.S. engagement in Europe and Asia. Shifrinson’s first book, Rising Titans, Falling Giants: How Great Powers Exploit Power Shifts (Cornell University Press, 2018) builds on extensive archival research focused on U.S. and Soviet foreign policy after 1945 to explain why some rising states challenge and prey upon declining great powers, while others seek to support and cooperate with declining states. 

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